Archives for category: Central government

This Birmingham Socialist Discussion Group meeting has been called to discuss the state of the railway system in Britain today and the case for nationalisation.

7 pm Wednesday 24th October first floor room, the Wellington, 37 Bennetts Hill City Centre

The front pages of the mainstream press have recently described the chaos in the British railways. Right-wing newspapers who have always supported the privatisation of the railways are now reflecting the dramatic failures of this system.

The Times 20.9.18. “Rail failings exposed by chaos over timetables” In which it informed its readers that “Nobody took charge of May’s timetable overhaul leading to the cancellation of 800 services a day.”

The Daily Mail headline on the same day was “Off the Rails!”. It said “Passengers are routinely being failed and the timetable chaos highlighted systemic weakness, poor leadership and lack of accountability.”

Two railways Northern Rail and Govia Rail have particularly failed and according to the BBC, 200 out of Northern Rail’s 3800 services are not running and 310 out of Govia Rail’s 4700 are not functioning. Both have tried to break the resistance of RMT members opposing driver only trains.

Speakers

Ian Scott President Birmingham Trades Union Council

Pat Collins ex-member of the Executive Council RMT

Ian Scott will give a historical perspective, talking about the early history of the rail industry, the Beeching axing of a major part of the track in the 1960s and 1970s – vandalism mainly implemented by Labour governments. He will also relate the sorry story of the privatisation of the rail industry in the 1990s by the Major government with no attempt to reverse any of these changes by the new Blair government. He writes:

“One of the factors facing the railways & governments from the 1900’s to 1960’s was the failure to co-ordinate public transport services. Tramways & latterly ‘bus services in competition with railways left (mainly) branch lines in a state of decline pre war. The Second World War left Britain’s railways almost bankrupt with increasingly worn out rolling stock. Nationalisation saved them from collapse but only with loans from World Bank & taxpayers money to upgrade & modernise the rail system. Subsequent government policies (post 1948) led to one of cynical disinvestment, branches closed & unsurprisingly main lines suffered from loss of revenue. It was ideal for the Tory government of the 1950’s, whose minister Marples appointed Dr Beeching to carry out the deliberate destruction of the rail system to create the need for the motorcar.

The entry of Britain into the EU in 1974 led to many directives from the commission on our home-based industries & public services with its (EU) requirement to reduce public expenditures. The EU directive 91/404/EEC was for the breakup of a smaller (post Beeching) rail network, hence the situation we face today with a prospect of a Labour government taking back rail into public ownership 

Pat Collins, RMT local branch secretary will discuss the resistance of RMT members to the privatised rail companies. 

*

To contact Birmingham Socialist Discussion Group, ring Pete 0780 9406973 or Stuart 0777 156 7496, ser14@btinternet.com    

 

 

 

Advertisements

West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 25th October 5-7 pm

Open meeting: FOE Warehouse, 54 Allison St, B5 5TH

A round table discussion

All welcome.

The Zero Waste Economy: Is it possible? 

Hazel Clawley shares with the group the main themes of Paul Connett’s book The Zero Waste Solution as an opening to a group discussion on reasons for the successes and failures of the international Zero Waste movement.

The aim is to steer the discussion away from the individualistic approach (what one dedicated ‘greenie’ can do to slim down her/his ‘residuals’ – the non-reusable, non-recyclable bin contents – admirable though these pioneers are), and towards ways in which whole communities are being drawn in to the ZW solution in some unlikely parts of the world e.g. Sicily.

A previous WMNEG session (by Jane Green) showed how the drive towards incineration in the West Midlands stymies the ZW approach here (as in so many places) – so is there any hope for a Zero Waste West Midlands? 

 

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire.

 

 

 

o

 

 

 

 

 

Birmingham Against the Cuts

Open Planning Meeting on Wednesday 10 October at 7pm

at the Wellington, 37 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham B2 5SN

 

     Agenda 

  1. Attendance and apologies
  1. Notes of meeting of 19 September
  1. The campaign by BCC Home Care Workers in Unison against changes in contracts
  1. The campaign against the closure of 14 Council Day Nurseries
  1. The campaign against school funding cuts
  1. Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) update
  1. Library campaign update
  1. The local economy – including BCC’s ‘Municipal Socialism’ and ‘Local Wealth Building’ and the WMCA’s ‘Inclusive Growth’
  1. Local democracy – BCC’s plans for wards
  1. AOB
  1. Date and venue of next meeting

*

PLEASE NOTE THAT AIDED DISABLED ACCESS TO OUR MEETINGS IN THE WELLINGTON CAN BE ARRANGED WITH ADVANCE NOTICE. PLEASE EMAIL RICHARD.HATCHER@BCU.AC.UK

 

See the Birmingham Against the Cuts website for regular news and analysis ahttps://birminghamagainstthecuts.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

o

 

As the prime minister speaks about a personal mission to fix our broken housing system. a Bournville reader asks several probing questions, adding ‘only time will tell’.

See the video of the PM’s speech to the National Housing Federation here.

“Since my very first day in Downing Street, I have made it my personal mission to fix our broken housing system and making sure that vision becomes a reality. We are already making good progress. In 2016/17, more than 217,000 additional homes were added across England. That represents a 15% increase on the previous year”.

Our reader asks “and how many were social rented homes?”

Mrs May adds that eight housing associations have already been given long-term funding deals, worth almost £600 million, paving the way for about15,000 new affordable homes. But again our readers challenges that word “affordable”:

He comments: “Are these homes truly affordable? Does she include in that figure truly affordable social rented homes? Please expand Mrs May.”

The Chartered Institute of Housing’s deputy chief executive, Gavin Smart defines affordable homes as those with the lowest social rents. He said:

“It’s crucial that Government investment helps housing associations to build the right kind of homes at the right prices.

“In practice this means building more homes at the lowest social rents – which is often the only truly affordable option for people on lower incomes”.

Mrs May announced a £2 billion initiative. Under the scheme, housing associations will be able to apply for funding stretching as far ahead as 2028/29. But housing consultant Joe Halewood pointed out that £2bn for the period of 2022 to 2028 is far lower than the funding housing associations were receiving from the government until it was slashed by George Osborne in 2010 to just £450m a year.

Was the £2 billion initiative a boost – or a mere 20% of the 2010 Labour funding in 2010?

“This new funding is one quarter of that amount and at £333m per year is just 20% of the £1.68bn housing funding the Tories inherited from Labour in 2010!” he blogged.

“A certain stigma still clings to social housing” (Mrs May)

Indeed, as Joe Halewood adds: ever since the Conservatives’ 1980 Right to Buy of council houses made renting a second-class, non-aspirational cultural phenomenon and led UK housing policy for the last 38 years – a policy which our Bournville reader points out is not being jettisoned?

Mrs May is at last paying lip-service to the concept of a mixed-tenure development

In 2005 Zenna Atkins chair of Places for People, a housing association, pointed out that traditional ideas about social housing persist. So amny years ago she advocated creating places people want to live in, encourage mixed economic communities, and create more ways for people to step on to (and off) the homeownership ladder. We need to be flexible in how people are able to access and fund these homes. Admittedly, this requires a radical shift in thinking. We would need to no longer build social housing places, but build affordable homes for people who could choose how they paid for them. The property should not brand you. How you pay for your home should not be public knowledge. the social housing should not be tucked away behind the private homes and “As you look from building to building, house to house, you should not be able to tell simply by looking which homes are affordable and which were sold at the market rate”.

But, as yet, no undertaking has been made to end the phenomenon of the “servant’s entrance”. Our reader adds: “we need government action to ban “poor doors” on developments”

Multimillion pound housing developments are using separate entrances to segregate the low-income tenants from wealthy home buyers – termed “poor doors” in the United States. In the US where it began, there are also separate rubbish and bicycle storage spaces.

Viability assessment rules are enabling developers to renege on their affordable housing commitments. Our Bournville correspondent calls for action to stop such evasion

As a paper by Guildhall Chambers puts it, politely: “Most frequently, VAs are used to seek a reduction in the amount of affordable housing which a Local Planning Authority’s policy would otherwise require. The LPA’s policy might, for example, dictate that 40% of the residential units created by a new development are sold at below market rates to support the provision of affordable housing. If the developer can show that this would make the development economically unviable, it can argue for an exception and a corresponding reduction”.

The chair of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter reminds us: “The last time this country built homes at the scale that we need now was in the 1970s when councils built more than 40% of them. Councils were trusted to get on and build homes that their communities needed, and they delivered, and they can do so again”

He pointed out that councils are actually hamstrung by Treasury restrictions which prevent them from borrowing against their existing housing stock, continuing:

“Access to funding for housing associations to employ more brickies and less bureaucrats and build more affordable homes is positive but does not go far enough”.

“Homes for affordable and social rent are desperately needed across the country now, not in 2022, and the measures announced today fail to provide the funding certainty councils also need to play a leading role in solving our housing crisis.

“If our country is to get back to building the 300,000 homes a year we need, the Government needs to ensure all areas of the country can borrow to invest in building new affordable homes and the necessary infrastructure to go with them”.

 

 

 

o

 

 West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 27th September 5-7 pm

Open meeting: FOE Warehouse, 54 Allison St, B5 5TH

Cllr Claire Spencer, Senior Policy Advisor – Public Services and Inclusive Growth, writes: We are using some of the models from Doughnut Economics to try and come up with a new way of judging the health of an economy. Currently, we take jobs, trade and GVA to be the measures, but that is giving us low pay, poor health and a highly problematic attitude to our human and environmental resources.

She recommends the Inclusive Growth Framework (iteration one) that went through WMCA Board on September 14th: “It’s early days, but the Board passed it, so it is a good indicator of trajectory, I hope”.

A round table discussion

All welcome. 

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire.

 

 

 

o 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birmingham recently hosted world’s first zero emission vehicle summit where Chris Grayling, the transport secretary unveiled plans which related only to road traffic – despite a Birmingham university team pioneering the use of the hydrogen-fuelled barge, in a city blessed with a network of waterways.

The developers of Birmingham’s Icknield Port Loop – a joint venture involving Urban Splash, Places for People, the Canal & River Trust and Birmingham City Council – have today presented a site-wide masterplan showing family houses, apartments, business premises and leisure facilities. Birmingham Live reports that, following work on remediation and rebuilding of the canal walls started earlier this year, construction has started on the Icknield Port Loop scheme and the first homes are scheduled to be ready for occupation in Spring 2019 (artist’s impression above).

James Lazarus, Head of Property Development and of the joint venture at the Canal & River Trust, comments that more people will be encouraged to use the city’s canals and tow-paths to commute to and from work and travel to the city centre; he earlier wrote that C&RT is “aware of the potential to run a taxi service and provision is being made in the plans to facilitate this” (Email to CBOA chair, September 25, 2017).

Those attending the Recycling and Waste Management Exhibition at the NEC this week were given a CBOA presentation illustrated by series of slides showing the advantages of carrying materials and waste by water instead of road.

Will there be cleaner greener transport for Icknield Port materials, waste removal – and later for commuters?

 

 

 

o

 

Near a Birmingham university team pioneering the use of hydrogen-fuelled barges and trains, in a city blessed with a network of waterways, Graeme Paton, the Times’ Transport Correspondent, reports that the government is hosting a meeting tomorrow to discuss ways of reducing traffic-related carbon emissions – ‘a world first summit’ (Business Birmingham).

Despite the existence of an All Party Parliamentary Group for the Waterways and the use of water buses, taxis and ferries in so many towns and cities (details here) with London leading the way, Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, has unveiled plans which relate only to road traffic.

     Use barges for freight (CBOA graphic)

Birmingham’s only water bus

The Department for Transport suggestions:

  • a local authority ban on petrol and diesel cars from certain road lanes to promote the use of environmentally friendly vehicles
  • green cars with zero emissions could be allowed to drive in bus lanes.
  • introduce green number plates for electric and hydrogen cars, copying a system in place in Norway, Canada and China
  • spend £2 million to promote electric-powered “cargo bikes” for inner-city deliveries which have increased in recent years because of the surge in online shopping.

Inrix, the traffic data company, said this year that Britain had the worst congestion in western Europe: “Motorists are spending an average of 31 hours a year stuck in peak-time jams. Average vehicle speeds in central London are as low as 7.6 mph”.

Hydrogen fuelled barge: see University note and Guardian article

”One of the most energy efficient means of moving goods is by canal and the threat of global warming is resulting in a resurgence of interest in this means of transportation”: Professor Rex Harris, University of Birmingham.

 

 

 

o

FT View recalls that Theresa May made solving Britain’s housing crisis a personal mission when she became prime minister in 2016.

A copy of her ‘burning injustices’ speech hangs in the No 10 waiting room according to Matt Chorley (Times). He reports, however, that references to it may be ‘ditched’ to avoid damaging the party’s poll ratings and notes that Tory MPs are now discouraged from using it in their campaign leaflets.

Philip Collins reminded us in the Times: “Conservatives often give bold speeches which herald no action. After the expenses scandal David Cameron diagnosed all that was wrong with politics and proclaimed a radical plan to put it right, not a word of which ever materialised. In her first address as prime minister, Theresa May set out the array of social issues which would define her premiership. Mired in Brexit, we are still waiting.”

The FT asserts that current proposals fall far short of an answer: there are now more than 1m people on the waiting list for council housing and, according to the charity Shelter, 300,000 people without homes. The un-named FT journalist adds that after years of austerity many local councils cannot afford to replace the social housing sold to tenants under the right-to-buy rules brought in by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and there is no new state money for housebuilding.

The new borrowing headroom they may be afforded looks limited and does not represent a rethinking of the ‘stifling’ constraints imposed on councils by Whitehall and the lack of subsidy for construction means sub-market-priced housing will continue to be subsidised through rents in the inefficient form of housing benefits.

So the state will continue to pay off the mortgages of private landlords rather than investing in the construction of an asset owned by either the state or a non-profit landlord

And the new rent settlement of inflation plus 1% to 2021 is grim at a time of stagnating incomes for tenants who have been tied to above-inflation rent rises for many years. Increasingly they cannot afford it.

Fast forward to Birmingham

 

A reader attended a Local Government Association breakfast meeting at a ‘costly’ hotel in the city with 9 others,  but with enough ‘luxury salmon etc’ to feed 30. As she handed out what was left over to the homeless lining the city centre, she heard ‘heart-breaking’ stories from some including one man who had winter frost-bite in one foot which was amputated, was released too soon and got frost bite in two other toes, so now is in a wheelchair. Her comment:

“What makes me fume is that there are 9,600 homeless in the city & 10k empty houses, so using special laws the council could requisition them & do them up with grants but instead their inefficient silo housing department evicts people instead of helping them”.

A search revealed that according to Government statistics (updated in May 2018) giving these figures for Birmingham:

  • the total number of empty homes in the city in 2017 was over 400,000
  • over 60,000 are local authority owned,
  • over 40,000 are owned by private registered providers (housing associations and social landlords)
  • and over 300,000 are privately owned.

According to a council report, more than 5,000 private homes in Birmingham have been empty for more than six months: of those 1,900 have been empty for three years. In many cases they have overgrown gardens, with litter, graffiti and broken windows blighting their neighbourhoods. But in June the Mail reported that the city council has set up a £4.6 million fund to buy empty homes and make them fit for use.

FT View summarises that at present, the emphasis remains doggedly on the right to buy what housing already exists

Worse still, today the FT reports that an analysis by Hamptons International, the estate agency, records that since the policy was introduced in 2013, more than 32,000 households have used the government’s Help to Buy scheme (a loan of up to 20% of the value of a newly built home in England, or 40% in London, interest-free for five years) to trade up for bigger properties rather than buying a first home. 

FT View’s verdict: “Britain needs a more proactive state to help solve its housing crisis. It looks unlikely that Mrs May’s government will deliver it”.

 

 

 

o

 

Keep Our NHS Public Birmingham (KONP) says, “It looks like we’ve won our campaign for a publicly-funded (non-PFI) Midland  Metropolitan Hospital in Smethwick/West Birmingham!”

The construction of the Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Smethwick collapsed after Carillion crashed spectacularly in Jan 2018 leaving the hospital half built. Then the bankers behind the ‘private finance initiative’ pulled the plug on the deal.

KONP Birmingham immediately organised a protest outside the hospital site demanding that the Treasury, health ministers and the Government should fully fund the hospital and run it properly under government and NHS control! Supporters included Birmingham TUC (BTUC), Unite the Union West Midlands, Unite the Community Birmingham, West Midlands Pensioners Convention and Birmingham Against the Cuts.

A month later, the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust Board voted to tell the Government that the only viable option for the completion was direct government funding, a full vindication of the KONP Birmingham campaign argument.

The Government and Hospital Trust has now reached an agreement to finish construction work with the Government providing funding for the remainder of the building work at Midland Metropolitan Hospital – which will see the new hospital built by 2022.

Birmingham Against The Cuts (BATC) says: “We believe that the Midland Met fiasco is a final nail in the coffin of successive governments’ love affair with PFI /2”

BATC gives a very cautious welcome for a publicly funded Midland Met Hospital in Smethwick/West B’ham (no PFI!) and expresses its  continuing concerns:

Firstly, there is a delay in starting completion until early summer 2019, partly because the half built hospital was rotting away without any protection for 6 months and an additional £20m worth of work will have to be done from this September.

Additionally, the Hospital’s Trust Board Chief Executive has been dropping in phrases to his announcements such as “making cost improvement programmes above national norms”, “limited reconfigurations”, etc, which reflect the concern in Dr John Lister’s 2016 review (right) of the privately financed hospital published by KONPB and BTUC when the Midland Met was first mooted.

Keep Our NHS Public Birmingham Secretariat will continue campaigning to defend the NHS and BATC will share news of government cuts, the implications and alternatives.

 

 

 

o

After being awarded a 15-year contract in 2011, as part of a wider move to bring more competition into the prison service, G4S has been stripped of control over ‘failed’ HMP Birmingham jail (details here). This is the latest crisis of the decades-long move towards privatisation of public services.

Following the first ‘takeover’ for a privatised prison contract, David Gauke, justice secretary, is appointing a new governor and management team on the site and has compelled G4S to take on 30 extra staff to instigate various improvements.

300 of HMP Birmingham’s 1,330 inmates will also be moved to other jails

Ministers said that G4S, which had failed to run the prison safely, would continue to run the facility under the direct control of the Ministry of Justice for at least the next six months.

This is government’s first ‘step-in process’.

Though G4S also runs HMP Altcourse, HMP Parc, HMP Ryehill and HMP Oakwood, all of which are “performing well” according to the government, shares in G4S dropped 2.5% after the government assumed control of the prison. Other problems include:

  • the government’s 2003 installation of a new governor at HMP Ashfield, run by Premier Prison Services;
  • the criminal activity of some Serco staff at the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre;
  • problems with Capita’s NHS back-office functions for primary care providers;
  • in 2016 ministers took over the running of Medway, a youth custody centre, where a G4S contract was coming to an end;
  • construction and public services company Carillion collapsed in January
  • and the Stagecoach and Virgin Trains East Coast mainline service was recently nationalised.

The Financial Times reported that violence, drugs, suicide and self-harm, squalor and poor access to education were once again “prominent themes” in jails during the year to the end of March. in July, Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales, in a highly critical annual report, said that conditions in some UK prisons are “disgraceful” and “should not be accepted in 21st-century Britain”.

Education, health, prisons, transport: in how many other sectors is the private sector failing?

 

 

o